Staunton, October 17 – In Western democracies, peoples and governments are accustomed to divided opinions among justices in their highest courts not only because the legal issues that such courts typically rule on have compelling arguments on both sides but also because dissents in these cases often become the basis for future decisions.
But in other countries, including Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the idea that the highest court should be divided on any issue and that dissents should offer encouragement to those who seek different outcomes in the future is anathema because that implies that change is possible and therefore that the current power arrangements are not immutable.
Yesterday, the Duma’s committee on laws adopted on first reading a Kremlin-introduced measure that would ban justices of the Constitutional Court from publishing their own opinions on cases. Only the verdict as a whole would be announced (meduza.io/news/2020/10/17/komitet-gosdumy-odobril-popravku-zapreschayuschuyu-sudyam-konstitutsionnogo-suda-obnarodovat-osobye-mneniya).
At present, justices who do not agree with the court’s decision can write dissents and publish them in the Vestnik Konstitutsionnogo Suda. Initially, the Russian government sought to limit the publication of such opinions to the court’s website, but now some deputies want to go further and prevent all such opinions from being released.
“The particular opinion of a justice of the highest court, Moscow lawyer Roman Bevzenko says, “is one of the drivers of the development of law. Disagreement with the majority of justices in individual opinions shows problems in the logic and basis of decisions” and opens the way to future revisions (t.me/rbevzenko/624).
That argument, accepted as fundamental in Western countries, has been welcomed by other Russian legal scholars in the past. (For a discussion of this issue, see cyberleninka.ru/article/n/yuridicheskaya-priroda-osobogo-mneniya-sudi-konstitutsionnogo-suda-rossiyskoy-federatsii/viewer.)
And in recent years, individual justices on the Constitutional Court have filed dissents on such issues as the law under which Russian groups and individuals are declared foreign agents, the ban on foreign participation in the ownership of Russian media outlets, and laws governing the country’s system of education.
This may seem like a small thing, as any student of American jurisprudence can testify. But it is indicative of the increasing unwillingness of the Putin regime to tolerate any dissent lest today’s minority grow into tomorrow’s majority.